Today I’m happy to share a Question and Answer session I had with another Anaiah Press author, Jackie Minniti. Her middle grade historical novel, Jacqueline, was one of my favorite reads in 2015. It’s now available in print as well as e-formats.
No, not at all! In fact, my dad, a 99-year-old WWII veteran whose experience inspired the story, had been asking me to write a book about Jacqueline for years. It was the only war story he was willing to share, and it became part of our family lore. I tried to explain to him that although our family loved the story, there wasn’t enough material for a book and no general audience for it. Then a chance encounter with a guest at my son’s wedding sparked a “Eureka!” moment. A man who’d been sitting with my dad came up to me. “I hear you’re a writer,” he said. “Your father’s been telling me the most amazing story. You should write a book about it.” I began to tell him why it couldn’t be done, but he interrupted me. “I have a daughter in 6th grade. She doesn’t know anything about WWII. She’d love to read a book like this, and it would help her learn history.” To this day, I don’t know why it never occurred to me to write the story for younger readers, especially since I’d taught middle school reading for so many years and Jacqueline was the same age as my students. But once I started looking at the story from that perspective,the plot began to form and I couldn’t wait to start writing.
Which character was the hardest to write about? Why?
I’d have to say that it was Yvonne Jamet, the young French “collaborateur” who was keeping company with the Nazi soldier. She was a controversial character because she was considered a traitor and was hated by Maman and the adults in the story, but Jacqueline saw her softer, more vulnerable side and had conflicted feelings about her. Since younger readers tend to see characters as either good or bad, I tried to present Yvonne as more of a “gray” character so they’d have to make their own decisions about her. It was a real effort to keep my personal feelings about Yvonne from leaking into my writing.
What are some of the most interesting historical tidbits you came across in your research?
As a Baby Boomer, just one generation removed from WWII, I was surprised at how little I really knew about this historical period. I’d read a lot about the Holocaust and the plight of the Jews in Germany, Poland, and Austria, but there wasn’t as much written about France during that time. I learned that there was a sizable Jewish population in Rennes, and that many French Jews were sent to Drancy, a “transit camp” outside Paris that was actually a temporary stop on the way to the death camps in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. I was also amazed at the hardships the French endured under the occupation – food rationing, curfews, censorship, air raids, constant surveillance. It renewed my appreciation for the freedom we enjoy here in America. And I can’t express the depth of my admiration for the bravery and sacrifice of the American troops who fought so valiantly to defeat the evil that was Nazi Germany. Most of them were mere boys, many away from home for the first time, and yet they transformed history and secured freedom for millions of people. They truly were the Greatest Generation.
Did the story go as planned or did you write some surprises?
Since Jacqueline is based on a true story, most of it went as planned. But some of the characters took unexpected turns. The biggest change from my original vision was the fate of the Bergiers. Since I don’t want to spoil the ending, I’ll just say that I originally planned something more catastrophic but decided it might be too intense for the younger readers.
What’s been the most rewarding part of Jacqueline being published?
I’ve dreamed of becoming a published author for as long as I can remember. The submission process was difficult and stressful, but it was all worth it when I was offered the contract from Anaiah Press. They’ve been extremely professional and a pleasure to work with. But the most rewarding part of the entire experience was putting that first copy of Jacqueline in my father’s hands. It was definitely one of the proudest moments of my life.
Ready for more?
Check out http://www.jackieminniti.com/